Can Frank Food Labels Fight Obesity?

Tackling The Obesity Crisis With Nutritional Labelling

Food labels with clear and honest nutritional information could help combat the growing obesity crisis.

Obesity is a growing problem across the world, particularly in the US and UK where two thirds of adults and more than a fifth of four and five years olds are classed as overweight or obese. With links to serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, being overweight has serious implications for people’s health. As a result, politicians and health professionals have put a lot of time, money and effort into investigating how we can halt the current obesity crisis.

One of the ways in which we can potentially help people to lose excess pounds and follow a healthier lifestyle is through the use of clear nutritional labels on food and drink products.

Informed Choices

What we choose to eat has a big impact on our weight and overall health. The consumption of processed foods that are high in salt, sugar or fat, are key culprits when it comes to weight gain, but their cheerful packaging, cheap prices and convenience mean that they are a tempting option for many people. However, experts believe that people can be steered towards healthier choices with government-mandated labels that clearly indicate the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of a product.

In the UK, food products must display nutritional information, but this is often displayed on the back of the label and listed in a way that can be unclear or confusing for consumers. To be truly effective, this information needs to be prominent, visible and easy to understand.

The traffic light warning system introduced by the UK government in 2013 fits the bill perfectly, however, this labelling system is not compulsory and is currently only used on around two thirds of food items, with other items using custom product labels to convey nutritional information in a different way. Experts argue that this inconsistent and erratic approach makes it difficult for shoppers to make informed decisions.

Global Label Examples

Obesity is a global issue and different countries across the world have their own labelling solutions to nudge consumers towards eating healthier foods, including both voluntary and compulsory schemes, such as Chile’s black and white stop signs on foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar or salt, and France’s front-of-pack colour coded labels that signify levels of nutritional value.

Research has shown that, as well as helping to guide customer choices, mandated labels can also nudge food producers towards formulating healthier products. For example, it’s estimated that more than 20 percent of large and medium-sized food companies in Ecuador have reformulated products as a result of the country’s traffic light labels.

The Brexit Effect

Studies have verified that well-designed labels have an impact on all shoppers, whatever their demographic or social background, so it’s logical to assume that a clear and consistent nutritional labelling system could have an impact on people’s eating habits.

With this in mind, the Local Government Association has argued that Brexit could offer an opportunity to overhaul the UK’s food labelling system, and has called on the UK government to standardise labelling and make nutritional information mandatory across all food products.

By adopting a consistent approach and encouraging consumers to go for healthier options, food labels could have an important role to play in fighting the obesity crisis. However, all countries need to improve regulation in the food and drinks industry to reduce the marketing and advertising of unhealthy food.

More like this in the Diet and Nutrition section

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